Have you ever wondered how many times a day you should feed your cat?
A reader contacted me regarding her cat being overweight. The cat is fed very small amounts of canned food six times per day, in accordance with how cats eat in the wild. This inquiry prompted me to do some research, reconsider how often I feed my cats, and write this article.
How most cats are fed
Most domesticated indoor cats are either free-fed dry food or fed twice per day. I feed my adult cats twice per day. The widely recommended schedule for kittens up to six months old is four times per day. From age six months to one year, three times per day is the recommended schedule. According to the information I found, feeding larger twice a day meals and eating too fast can cause vomiting.
How cats in the wild eat
I had read about this a long while back and didn't pay much attention to it. There are a lot more recent studies and information on the topic, and there are new recommendations! Cats living in the wild and finding their own food eat up to 8-10 times per day. The typical prey of cats in the wild are mice, along with birds. The way we feed our domesticated cats does not match their natural physiological design of a carnivore.
Feeding cats the way nature intended
The smell of food stimulates a cat's hunger. Thus, free-feeding is not a good idea, even if you want to give them more meals per day like a cat in the wild. Many cats will overeat out of boredom. They will also be attracted to the scents that are sprayed onto dry food to make it palatable. Some cats are addicted to the carbohydrates in dry food. And finally, dry food is too low in meat protein to fully satisfy your carnivore. This can lead to a cat wanting more and more to feel satiated. Free-feeding is directly linked to obesity, diabetes, urinary tract infections, heart and joint problems.
Quite a few resources suggest feeding the very minimum of three times per day for the pet parent that is gone all day at work (me being one of them). This schedule would be in the morning, when you arrive home from work, and right before bedtime. Some resources suggest feeding five times per day. This does not mean you will add additional full servings, as this will lead to weight gain. You will have to distribute the daily amount of food between these three feedings, or however many feedings per day you choose. Yes, it's a little more work, but aren't our cats worth it?
Please note: They are eating less at each meal, which may result in higher activity level and possible weight loss. (Think about how full and inactive you feel when over-eating as opposed to eating lighter and having more energy.) If your cat is already at a good slim weight and then begins losing weight with smaller meals spread out through the day, you will need to slightly increase the amount fed each meal. It will be some experimenting as their bodies adjust to the change.
Consider the cat's activity level
You must also consider his or her activity level in accordance to how much you are feeding if you want to mimic a feeding schedule more closely related to your cat's natural physiological design.
In regards to activity level, there is one huge difference between a cat in the wild and a domesticated indoor cat. The cat in the wild expends a large amount of time and energy chasing and hunting its prey. They also expend energy getting away from predators, be it animal or humans. They have a lot more territory to run, climb and jump. Our indoor adult companions have their food handed to them and expend very little energy, if any at all, while waiting for their meal to be served. They expend no energy to obtain their food when free-fed. It is part of our duty as a cat parent to provide them what they don't have for their emotional and physical well-being.
When we want to lose weight, there are three components involved (unless one has a thyroid problem involved) which apply to cats as well:
- Eat better quality, nutritious, healthy foods
- Eat less
- Be more active
Activity (exercise) is just as important for our cats as it is for us. Since our kitties are safe and sound indoors, we must recreate the hunt for them, two times per day is ideal. Just 5-10 minutes is usually sufficient for adult cats. I am guilty of play-hunting with my cats only once per day, and sometimes none on my really long work days! Strive for five days a week of playtime.
Researchers and feline behaviorists say that feeding them more like they are physiologically designed to eat and recreating the hunt for them will reduce boredom, frustration and depression. This can help avoid unwanted and unhealthy behaviors such as over-grooming, pacing and causing destruction in the home. It can also prevent excess weight gain or assist in losing excess weight. You might try tossing cat treats straight up or across the room for your cat to jump and chase down. There are cat puzzle feeders, which slows down a fast eater and promotes foraging for food like they would do in the wild. Be careful in choosing one of puzzle feeders. The compartments are often very small. Cat whiskers have a lot of nerve endings, and they hold their whiskers back when eating out of containers that do not have a wide base. This is believed to cause whisker fatigue. To counteract this, cats may use their paws to scoop canned food out, and this can be messy for them and you.
Change feeding locations
Research is also recommending to feed our cats in different locations. If they were hunting, they would be roaming all over the place looking for prey. My cats are so programmed to go to their feeding spots. They run to it before I get there. I feed my cats in separate locations with doors closed, because some eat faster than others and will steal food from the others. This change will cause some confusion at first and will take getting used to.
- Feed the daily amount of food divided up into more meals per day. Have the goal of at least three times per day. Do not free feed! Kittens under 6 months old really do need to eat at least four times per day, and may require free feeding if you have to be gone all day long. That would mean leaving down dry food, and that's a whole other subject. Or trying an automatic feeder, which can be used with wet foods.
- Feed healthier options, such as canned cat food or raw food (homemade or prepared).
- Increase your cat's activity level.
- If you are doing all of this and your cat is still overweight, try decreasing the amount of food. The recommended servings posted on cat food cans always seem on the high side to me.
If none of this works to help your cat lose excess weight, you might consider having your cat's thyroid checked by a veterinarian, preferably a holistic veterinarian who can give you a safe, natural-based plan for healing.